The pace of educational change today is breathtaking. The education reform movement promoted by President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has made more of an impact in the past year than in the previous decade. Whether you agree or disagree with Race To The Top and other reform ideas, there can be no denying that Washington, D.C., has definitely shaken the education tree and shaken it hard!
From the recent Los Angeles Times articles on value added to last week’s Time magazine cover story, “What makes a school great,” to “Newsweek’s” recent article entitled, “Obama’s class project,” education has been a very hot topic recently.
On Sept. 24, a new movie called, “Waiting for Superman,” was released. It is a documentary that follows five students and their parents as they try to escape their local schools for higher-performing charter schools. The issues around charter schools — value added, merit pay, accountability and national common core standards — are complex and also controversial.
In the Lucia Mar Unified School District, as in other districts, there is no doubt that student achievement has been improving. Recent state test scores show that the quality of education in our schools is very good. Both teachers and administrators are working hard to improve student learning, and our results are strong.
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However, while we are building momentum and getting better, we are never satisfied with the status quo. The status quo is not acceptable. Innovation is essential. While we need to be very thoughtful, critical and careful in deciding which educational reforms to enact here in San Luis Obispo County and in the nation, we also need to take action and make changes if we are to really ensure not only that our students are successful in their core academic skills, but also that they learn the essential 21st century learning skills.
This does not mean blindly embracing every new reform idea. It does not mean that we don’t ask hard questions or demand research-based data to support new ideas. But it does mean that we must be willing to take risks. It does mean that we are open to making real and significant changes in the way we do business.
Teachers are the single most important variable that affects student learning. All the research shows that when teachers increase their skills, student achievement improves.
I am thrilled to report that the Lucia Mar Unified School District has recently received a $7.2 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant for six of our high- needs schools. The grant will provide these schools, if they agree, with the resources needed to give us a model and structure that will provide teachers with regular feedback and coaching to help students improve — two essential ingredients that we are currently lacking.
It also provides for bonus pay based on several criteria. The Teacher Incentive Fund grant is a five-year program, and this first year is a planning year that will give us the time to work with our teachers to make sure all of our teachers understand the model and want to participate.
Almost every educator I know is working exceptionally hard. Contrary to popular belief, the skills needed to be an effective teacher are incredible and the demands on our teachers have never been higher. What we need are research-based, proven reforms that will provide us with the means to improve. We also need the courage to embrace and implement meaningful change.
We can’t accomplish any of this without the help and support of our teachers, parents and students. We think all will benefit mightily from this grant. As the famous John Wooden said, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
Jim Hogeboom is the superintendent of the Lucia Mar Unified School District.